The process of evaluating quarterbacks
In the not too distant future, we will know which underclassmen quarterbacks will be entering the draft. When you combine those players with the seniors, we will know which quarterbacks will be available to NFL clubs next spring.
What we will also see and hear is the constant talk by the draftnik community about how good each player is and who has a chance to be the next “franchise” quarterback. As I have stated many times in the past, the term “franchise” quarterback is vastly overused, and in reality, there are only four true franchise quarterbacks in the NFL. They are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The next player who has a chance to join that elite group is Andrew Luck. After that, there are some quarterbacks who are very good, but they aren’t “franchise” caliber.
That being said, I thought that it was time to talk about how I evaluate quarterbacks. My thought process in the overall evaluation of quarterbacks hasn’t changed much in the last few years, but as the game evolves, so does the criteria for evaluation. When thinking about writing this, I thought that I could probably write pages on it. (and in fact, have in our Introduction to Scouting course) For the purpose of this article, I will try and summarize.
Since I began scouting in the early 1980’s, the biggest change we have seen when looking at quarterbacks is the offenses they are playing in. Back then, most colleges were playing in some sort of pro-style offense. Now, the majority of schools are playing in a spread. The spread quarterbacks rarely take snaps from under center and some struggle when they do. With the college game changing to a spread style offense, so has the NFL game. Today we are seeing many NFL offenses that operate from a spread formation on 80 -90% of offensive downs if not more. With that, comes some difference in the evaluation process.
The Starting Point
When you are going to begin evaluating a quarterback, you have to start somewhere, and I have always thought that size is an important trait. The thought process on size has changed some recently as we have seen players like Brees and Russell Wilson have success but still they are the exception. Ideally, you would want a player who is between 6’2” and 6’4” with good athleticism. Of course, taller players can succeed as can shorter, I am just referring to the ideal case.
The ideal weight would be in the 215-225 pound range with ideal speed in the 4.67 - 4.70 range. Of course you would love to have someone faster but don’t forget, Tom Brady was a swift 5.25, Peyton Manning never was timed and numerous others won’t come close to winning an award in the 100 meters. Coaches today want a quarterback who has the speed and athleticism to avoid the rush and extend plays with their feet, so obviously, the faster and more athletic a prospect is, the better.
Many in the NFL look at the physical traits of a quarterback and rate a guy highly because of those traits. While the physical traits are important, what is more important are the intangibles and the mental traits. I don’t care how good the physical traits of a quarterback are, if he doesn’t have the mental traits he will fail!
Obviously, the prospect has to have a high degree of football intelligence. He has to be able to learn and totally understand the offense. Not only does he have to understand his position but the other 10 offensive positions as well. He then has to be a quick thinker on his feet. The game of football is fast. A top quarterback has to think fast and make proper decisions on the move. Instincts are tied in to that. A non-instinctive quarterback doesn’t have the thought process to think quickly on his feet. Not only does he have to make quick decisions, he has to make the right decisions.
Top quarterbacks have to be leaders. By the nature of the position, the quarterback is the face of the franchise. As such, he also has to be the leader, both verbally and by example. The quarterback needs to have the respect of their teammates and coaches. Their teammates have to believe that he is a winner. The type of guy who can lead them on a game winning drive over and over again. The type of guy who when he talks, every one listens.
He also has to be a very competitive player. The type who will do anything to win and can’t stand to lose. His football character needs to be almost impeccable. Not only does he need to be a top player, but a top worker. He has to be one of the hardest workers on the team and want to be as great a player as he can possibly be. In other words, a “winner”.
Many of these intangibles can all be grouped together in something we call the “it” factor. While it can be difficult to define “it”, all top quarterbacks have “it”. When we scout quarterbacks, not only are we looking for players with top football character, but we want a guy with top character. Guys who don’t get in trouble off the field, are good citizens, and respected in the community. The type of guy the franchise can be proud of. A player who has brushes with the law, or does things that can be embarrassing to the organization off the field will not have the respect of his teammates or coaches. Guys like that will fail in the long run.
There are numerous physical traits scouts look for when evaluating quarterbacks. Not be redundant, but I could write pages on this but I will try and keep it brief and to the point. If you'd like to learn more, consider enrolling in our Introduction to Scouting course in 2015.
Arm Strength – Arm strength is important, but not THE most important trait. Players like Drew Brees and Tom Brady did not have great arms when they came out of college. As they got involved with NFL weight programs, their arms got stronger.
What I look for is obviously velocity, but I also look for spin. A quarterback who has average arm strength but throws a tight ball, will be able to play in different types of weather conditions. His “tight ball” will be able to cut the wind and be accurate. The loose ball can be driven off course under windy playing conditions.
You also have to see if he is able to make the types of throws that NFL quarterbacks have to make. Does he have the velocity and strength to throw the deep out and fly type routes?
Quick Release – The quicker the release the better. Quarterbacks who can “see it” and get the ball out of their hand quickly generally have success. For that to happen, the player needs to have a tight release. He can’t have a long slow throwing motion. Defensive backs love QB’s with slow releases, as it gives them the opportunity to get a jump on the ball.
Accuracy and Ball Placement – One of the most useless stats in evaluating a quarterback is completion percentage. Ball placement is a far better indicator of accuracy. In the college game, the window to complete a pass is much larger than in the NFL. College quarterbacks seldom have to have pinpoint accuracy. That is not the case in the NFL, where the window may be two feet by two feet. The only way you can really see how accurate a quarterback is, is to watch a lot of tape and literally grade every throw as to its ball placement. There are many completed passes in college that would be interceptions in the NFL.
Instincts/Vision – Before you can even begin to grade a quarterbacks instincts and vision, you have to know and understand what he is being asked to do in his college system. Is he playing form a spread or under center? Does he read the whole field or just one side? How many receivers are in his progression?
When you know the answer to these t hings, then it becomes easier to understand his thought process. Then through your tape study, you grade his ability to read the field and how instinctive his reactions are. When I try to answer this question, I always use the end zone view of each play. With that view, you can see where the quarterback is looking. Is he able to find his primary and then go to secondary receivers before coming back to his primary? Is he able to “look off” a receiver? How quickly does he react to the coverage? Is he able to make a pre-snap read and check off to a better play?
Set Up Quickness – With most colleges playing from a spread, it is difficult to grade this trait. You seldom see a quarterback take a snap from under center and take three, five, and seven step drops. Sometimes you don’t find the answer to that question until you work the player out.
Avoid Rush/Run Ability – When you look at players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, we know that they aren’t the quickest players but they have an outstanding “feel” for pass rushers. This is tied in with instincts. Because of that feel, they seldom take sacks.
When evaluating college quarterbacks you have to study how they react to pass rushers. Then you have to grade their ability to “extend” plays with their quick feet and athleticism and still make an accurate throw. Nest you have to grade their run skills. When the pass protections brakes down and they have to take off, do they have the run skills to make positive yards?
Is he productive in certain situations?
The last thing you should do is look at a highlight tape when studying quarterbacks. On a highlight tape, you will see the prospect make all the throws needed. Any highlight tape can make a prospect look like a future All Pro.
You have to study each play of each game. What does he do in certain situations? Is he consistently effective on third and long situations? How is he on first down? How and when does he throw interceptions? Does he make the most of scoring opportunities? Does he win games? Does he win games against top competition? Does he make the players around him better? All these questions and more have to be answered.
I have given you a brief description on how to study/evaluate the quarterback position. Where mistakes are made in the draft, is when evaluators fall in love with some/all of the physical traits and don’t look hard enough at the mental. The mental makeup which includes instincts, football intelligence, football character, decision making, leadership etc., makes up better than 50% of the evaluation process. The top players are the ones that get high grades when you look at the mental makeup and intangibles.
Learn more about evaluating the quarterback position (and all positions) in Introduction to Scouting, a six week, online training course with Greg, now registering for its Winter Sessions.